Robbie Fee-Thomson

Document #1

Francis Davis Letter to Lydia Lord

Princeton, Massachusetts; July 27, 1889

L, A: Oberlin College Archives, Lydia Lord Davis Records Group (RG 30/80), Courtship Correspondence Series II, Box 1, June-August 1889 Folder



This is an original, hand-written letter from Francis W. Davis to his fiancé Lydia Lord of Ravenna, Ohio. Eager to join the Oberlin Band that had begun work in 1882 at Taiku and Fenzhou in Shansi Province, China, Francis applied to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missionaries in Boston following his graduation from Oberlin Theological Seminary in 1889. He met Lydia during a stay in Ravenna, Ohio, where the newly ordained minister served as a guest preacher at the Congregational Church early that summer. This letter, written toward the end of their brief summer courtship and only two weeks before their wedding, provides insight about late Victorian courtship, in its language and terms of endearment popular to the time period. More importantly, it demonstrates the couple’s eager anticipation of their foreign mission service, as it details items that Francis was obtaining for their new home in China. It also shows Francis’ concern for Lydia in the mission field, as he indicated that he purchased items to ease the loneliness and bareness of the China dwelling. This letter is also significant because indicates that Lydia had recently been accepted by the board, a necessary requirement for wives who would accompany their husbands into the field as “assistant missionaries.” Accompanying Francis was not simply a matter of wifely duty for Lydia, as she had previously applied for mission service but was turned down due to her age. The couple were married on August 14, 1889 and departed for China on September 11 that year.


Princeton, Mass July 27, ’89. [a]

My darling Lydia:

How sorry I am about your scare at the extra train. It wouldn’t have made much difference. I should have seen Mr. [Keills/Reills ?] just the same. Have just received your letters back from Boston where they were remailed by mistake. There were 4 2 of them 17th. 19th. And I will try and answer them with the one I got tonigh. Thank your Father for the sewing machine for me. It is very pretty undoubtedly. I shall go to Boston next week one day & will see about the machine. I wish you might have bid me Good night the 17th[b] and that I could you in person this night. Have promised your pictures to 2 friends on whom I called today. Everybody to whom I have shown your picture has been pleased with you and congratulated me on my prospects. Now yours of the 19th And I shall be glad to meet Miss Greer in Nebraska[c] and still more the one in Peking. What a welcome you will have when you meet. Of course you were accepted from Boston[d]. Am sorry to say that we are evidently not going by the Pacific Mail Steamship Co.[e] for we are going by the Oceanic Line[f] on Sept 10. Received a card from Mr. Stimson[g] tonight saying that we can leave Cleveland on Tuesday night[h] and get to Chicago Saturday morning which would be too late to get to Miss Greers for Sunday. Perhaps we had better wait till Wednesday the 21st and get to Chicago Sunday morning. Or perhaps we could wait till the following Monday the 26th. But such things can be settled better a little later. Shall be glad to give Miss Hopkins[i] my picture I have great reason to thank the good Father that you never acted so about a man before and that you love me so beautifully and so unchangeably. Who was the author of the beautiful lines you quoted in your last letter. I hope we can go to Oberlin on the 5th[j] as you suggest, but at present I cannot tell, and will write you next week in season I hope. You will need no forgiveness for your urging for I am anxious to see you. I bought only one mattress in Boston and shall get another one in Frisco[k]. The pillows are 20 inches. Mr. Goldsbury[l] is the son of a rich merchant and did not include medicine. Quite a litter of it was probably expensive and unnecessary. I have been a little more liberal than I expected to be when I came to Boston, and [inserted text: when I] thought of the bareness of the walls of our house and of the lonesomeness that you would might feel. The clock was a little expensive but the calendar will be a constant benefactor to us and pay for its extra cost in one year besides needing less repairing. The calendar attachment will run for ages and not need oiling or cleaning. It is to be set for Nov 15 and will need striking round from that time till it gets there. This letter will not go till Monday as we have no mail Sunday. You need not write me after you get this for I shall leave here probably Thursday morning. Good night my dearest friend my only love my wife in 17 days[m] and then we’ll live and love forever with all our hearts.



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[a] Princeton, Mass., located 64 miles west of Boston, Mass. Francis was likely visiting his hometown of Princeton while conducting business with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions office in Boston. and General Catalogue of Oberlin College 1833-1908 (Oberlin, OH: Oberlin College, 1909), 86-9.

[b] July 17, 1889 is likely the day that Francis left for Princeton and Boston.

[c] Unable to locate information on identity of Ms. Greer or the reason for a trip to Nebraska.

[d] Boston is home of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions office. Ellsworth C. Carlson, The Oberlin Band (Oberlin, Ohio: Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association, 2001), 28-9.

[e] A San Francisco based steamship company that sailed to China from 1850-1920.

[f] The Oceanic Steamship Company was owned by Alfred Holt and Thomas Ainsworth. Its ships began sailing to China in 1864.

[g] Martin Luther Stimson (1856-1935), an 1881 graduate of Oberlin Theological Seminary, was born in Waterbury, Vermont. He received his AB from Dartmouth College in 1878. On July 6, 1881, he married Emily Brooks Hall, an 1881 graduate of Oberlin College, whose brother Charles Martin Hall invented the electrolytic extraction of aluminum in 1885. The first members of the Oberlin Band in Shansi, the couple served from 1882 to 1889. Ellsworth C. Carlson, Oberlin in Asia (Oberlin, Ohio: Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association, 1982), 60; The Oberlin Band, 16; and The General Catalogue, 936.

[h] This likely referred to Tuesday, August 20, following the couple’s wedding on August 14, 1889.

[i] Unable to locate information on this individual.

[j] This is likely a trip planned for early August 1889 before their wedding.

[k] San Francisco, California, the location from which they departed for their ocean voyage to China on September 11, 1889. Lydia Lord Davis Obituary typescript, OCA RG 28 Alumni Records, Grads and Formers Series, Box 241, Francis W. Davis student file.

[l] James F. Goldsbury (1860-1893), who did not attend Oberlin College, was the second doctor appointed by the board. He served in China with his wife Mary Grace Fisher, of Warwick, Massachusetts, from 1889-1893. The Oberlin Band, 26; Oberlin in Asia, 61.

[m] Francis and Lydia were married August 14, 1889 at the home of her parents Eleazer Lord (1823-1904) and Mary Lewis Lord (1844-1929) in Ravenna, Ohio. Ravenna Republican, September 13, 1900 and Lydia Lord Davis biography, OCA RG 30/80 Finding Guide.

[n] Francis W. Davis (1857-1900), eldest son of Charles Davis (1824-94) and Mary Kelley Davis (1834-67) of Princeton, Mass. Francis graduated from Oberlin Theological Seminary in 1889. Francis W. Davis biography, OCA RG 30/80 Finding Guide.